What Short-Answer Questions Do We Have This Week? Originally Published January 27-28, 2023.

Your correspondent refers to it as a “Torah schmatte,” but what do we call that fancy cover we put over the sefer Torah in the middle of reading it while we are doing other things?  It is called a bein gavra.  As those who sell them say, “the flat Torah cover is an ornate covering that both protects and beautifies the sefer Torah….” and then they effuse about the embellishments available thereon.  The term comes from בין גברא לגברא, Aramaic meaning “between one man and another,” referring to the custom mentioned in the Shulhan Arukh about covering the sefer Torah with a veil.  Our tradition is to cover it between aliyot only when something else is going on - a mi shebeirakh for a birthday or an aufruf or for the ailing, for instance, or for rabbinic remarks.

Why in the Kaddish Shalem, in the ante-penultimate line, is the first word sometimes “titkabal” and sometimes “titkabel”?  The answer seems to be because the former is Aramaic and the latter is Hebrew, and at some point in the early 18th century there was a move to make the words Hebrew.  In fact, one individual cites Rashi as writing in sefer Likutei Hapardes Siman Vav that the first two words are yitgadel veyitkadesh because they are in Hebrew, and are not yitgadal veyitkadash.  Most of the rest of the Kaddish is in Aramaic.  (Notably, though, in the middle of the penultimate line it wholesale switches to Hebrew).  However, it should be pronounced titkabal(no “bailing”) because the rest of that paragraph is in Aramaic.

Should we not name a baby after someone who died young?  Aren’t we supposed to name after someone who was good, regardless of the length of their life?  The rules about naming come down to a matter of custom.  Ashkenazi Jews name only after deceased family members, and often name their first born after a (late) paternal grandfather, while Reform and Sefardi Jews permit naming after those who are still living.  Some quote Talmud about naming, saying that we give a name at the beginning of life and at the end of life a “good name” is all we take with us (Berakhot 7b).  Some also cite the teaching that parents receive one-sixtieth of prophecy when choosing a name:  an angel comes to the parents and whispers the name that the new baby will embody. 

The name is intended to carry the goodness of the deceased to the newborn, and at the same time provide the deceased a piece of eternity here on earth.

Since all of this is custom and much is based on superstition, it is not difficult to see where some communities would have developed an aversion to naming after someone who died young, even if some offer the mitigation that if the person left children behind it might be okay.  Others, though, believe that if the person was one you would wish your child to emulate in life with the exception of having died young, it would be okay to do so.  After all, that person was named after someone else who was revered.

There is no reference in the Torah proper decreeing anything about naming a baby; it is all derivation.  We can choose to buy in to traditions, superstitions, bubbemeises, and old wives’ tales.  Or we can choose not to.